Monday, May 17, 2010

The Shobar

Thoughts lately are taking me back to a time and place that now seems to be long ago and far away. There are so many pieces of that life that are dark, sad, and miserable. There are also pieces of that time that I loved, and parts of it that are even missed today. Most of the girls I was tight with at these times also agree that this was a sad and miserable time for everyone involved. Yet, when I remember...I miss it, too.
I do not miss the drugs. And I do not miss the addiction. I am not really sure what it is that I miss. I miss being thin and feeling pretty. I miss the attention and the money (although I wasted all the money too quickly back then!). I think what I really miss is the camaraderie, the friendships. I look back fondly on those friendships that were forged out of need, yet they remain even today out of love. This piece is dedicated to Alicia...whom I am overjoyed to have found once again.
I also want to dedicate this piece to Quentin, who has been my rock. already know how much I love you, but I just want to reiterate my undying love and respect for you. You were always there for me when I needed you, and also when no one else was willing to stand by me-you never left my side. For that I will always be grateful. You were never judgemental, and you always seemed to understand me. And now, you relish with me in all my new found wonders. Quentin, you are a strong and a constant in my life, and for that I owe you everything I am today. Thank you for always being there for me.

325 Bourbon Street. One of the most infamous addresses in my old junky mind. I spent a whole lotta time at 325 Bourbon Street, working to pay for my expensive lifestyle. I can see the interior in my mind, as clearly as if I were still there. The place has changed since the Hurricane, which is a shame because there is so much history there.
325 Bourbon Street was where The Shobar stood for years and years. It is rumored that this site was the first strip club in all of America, and it most certainly is the oldest one in New Orleans. Its history undoubtedly dates back before even the Storyville times, and the club lies just on the edge of what was once the infamous Storyville. Walking inside, the feeling of its checkered past becomes instantly obvious.
The windows on Bourbon were painted over so that the inside is no longer visible to the street. I like to think that once upon a time, these windows revealed a little of the dark interior to the street. The gold paint now covers them over, reminding me of a bordello or a western type saloon. I could be wrong about those windows because my memory does not often serve me well, and I did not spend very much time on the outside of those windows, looking in. I spent much of my time in the darkened interior of the place.
The double doors stood receded from the street a little. Cheap, fake green grass covered the stoop leading up to these doors. The doors were just the regular double doors with window panes on each piece. If I recall correctly, they were probably once white but had since yellowed with age. Just inside the doors, was a tiny little foyer, equipped with a couple of bar stools for girls who needed a little escape from the interior. And two more doors opened up into the club.
The door man stood on the street just outside the doors, barking at people walking by...enticing them to come on inside. Sometimes girls would join him on the stoop, hawking at men on the street in attempts to get some more business inside. The girls were not supposed to leave the club, and most often they stood in the foyer, just inside the door.
This did not mean that it was impossible to leave, as I, once known as Scarlet, can attest. I would often have to make a dope run just before the night shift really got cranking. The most frequent door man in those days was Jeff, who was also often in need of dope. Jeff would cover for me, and the other door men would allow me to give them a couple dollars to keep my secret safe.
Looking back on it, I am sure my little runs were not a secret from anyone, but it is always nice to keep up our images. I would put on one of my street worthy stripper outfits. Generally, it was my black vinyl nurse uniform with the red flames accompanied by my knee high black boots. I would step out the front doors, bullshitting for a few minutes like I was hawking for customers. Then, I would turn to the left and dart down Bourbon to the corner. Turning on Conti, I picked up the pace as I rushed to meet the man with no less than 200 dollars in my boot(often times I had much, much more). Turtle often met me right on Conti, just a block away from Bourbon on Dauphine. I would hop in the car, and quickly make the transaction. Hugging tightly to numerous little foils full of my precious dope, I would head back down Dauphine towards Canal a block until I turned on Bienville. Walking up Bienville to Bourbon, passing several bars and fine dining restaurants...I made the block at Bourbon and was back inside the club lickety split. And I was also greeted by anxious eyes, waiting for their precious packages. Gathering in the dressing room, I distributed the foils like gifts on Christmas morning. Let the money-making begin!
I remember the very first time I worked at the Shobar. It must have been in 1999, and I had just moved to New Orleans. I was cocktailing at the Casbah, and I decided to go ahead and dance at The Shobar. Liam and I were broke, and he wasn't getting a check for several weeks. We needed the cash, and although I had agreed to give up stripping before we left North Carolina...I had to do something.
The first thing that struck me about The Shobar was that it paid the dancers a shift pay. This shift pay had ended by the time I started working there again, but in 1999 I was paid a shift pay. Also unlike in NC, the girls get a cut of the drinks that a customer buys for them. Two dollars per drink. If all other tactics failed, one could still make money drinking with customers. A win, win situation for someone like me who could really slug them back.
The second thing that struck me as odd was the house mother. Her name was "Mama", although she was not really a woman...but most people could not tell that right off the bat. Over my years at The Shobar, I experienced quite a love/hate relationship with Mama. There were times I know she hated me, and I felt like she was just bitter and jealous. Then, she would always surprise me by doing something that showed that she really did care about me.
Mama was a fixture that had been left over from years past. The Shobar had at one time been a strip club that featured drag queens, and Mama was one of the dancers. She would often refer to her days as a dancer, and according to Mama things were very different then. Once, during Mardi Gras when some of the girls went upstairs to a part of the club that was no longer used, we discovered a bunch of really cool, old, elaborate headdresses that drag queens used to wear. Mama no longer danced, but she ran a tight ship...and she knew how to work her tip. She just demanded it.
I can still see her in my mind. She was often wearing a long skirt and a very conservative top. She often reminded me more of a cheap saleswoman than of someone who had always worked in a strip club. Her thick make up hiding her manly features, and her long hair falling onto her shoulders. I would not say Mama was pretty, but she carried herself with the confidence that she exuded. In the end of both hers and my years at The Shobar, Mama was always on my case...she wanted me fired! But, it just did not happen. I am sure it really burned her up.
Once you entered the club from Bourbon Street, you stepped back in time. It was dark as hell in there, and the interior was dark, wood, and burgundy. It was an adjustment of one's eyes, even from the nighttime neon of Bourbon Street. Once your eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the interior of the place was really neat. It was old school, and you could tell it had remained unchanged for years. I think it is sad that it was completely gutted and changed after Hurricane Katrina.
To the right was the bar. One end of the bar was almost on top of the window that faced the street. This was the open end, where the bartender could come and go as he pleased. The phone was back in this corner, and I made and received many calls about dope from that phone. I even made a few calls from jail to that phone.
The bar itself was made of dark wood, smooth from years of customers and sloshing drinks. I can still feel the edge of the bar underneath my fingers as I think about it. It was an old bar, and it had that raised edge that went all the way around. The wood was soft from age, and I often used to put my nails into it, almost digging out small little pieces. It was a nervous habit I acquired while sitting there.
The other end of the bar, opposite the window and the phone, met up with the stage. This allowed the bartenders to keep an eye of the stage from where he stood to mix drinks. Sitting at the bar, even in the daytime, one would notice how dark it was. Sometimes it seemed so dark that I could barely see the bottles of liquor behind the bar. But, that was not an issue because I knew they had Jameson. From beyond that darkness, one would often see Quentin's face looking out from the bar.
Quentin would often bartend, or at least help out Gregory and Mikey. Both Gregory and Mikey were from Greece, as was the owner of The Shobar. Over the years, I came to love all three bartenders. We saw each other almost every night, and I made a lot of money on that club...which meant more money for them. If Quentin was not bartending, he was sitting at the bar chatting with the girls. Q is the best kind of guy to have a a strip club because he makes friends with everyone. He can cheer up a sad dancer, listen to a frustrated one, and even diffuse many crazy situations that occur in a roomful of half naked women.
All the chairs at The Shobar were very straight backed. On the wall in front of the door were several chairs with tables that always kept the person who was seated there in an upright position. It was impossible to just kick back. On the opposite end of the stage were some banquettes, covered in a burgundy fake leather that was easy to wipe clean. There was a round table with chairs opposite the stage where the drug dealers would generally come sit. Bob would often sit there, as the girls would come up one by one and receive their dope. Behind that table was more banquettes that were separated for dances. All the girls and their customers would be piled on top of one another, pretending that they are alone.
The private room was really not very private at all, as it was only separated by a beaded curtain at the entrance. There was an old couch on this room that had years of dirt and cum, I am sure. I was sometimes afraid to stick my hand too far into the seam of the couch for fear of coming up with a used condom. I will say, though, when Jeff would open the club early for day shift, we would often search the cushions of the couch for money. Dollar bills wrapped around thighs and ankles would often peel off unbeknowst to the dancer while giving a private show. Sometimes Jeff and I would discover enough money back there to get a bag of dope for each of us. That was the best way to start the day!
The stage at The Shobar was my favorite part about the entire place. It was old school and looked exactly like I had always pictured a stage of a strip club. The reality is that most strip clubs today try to be so ritzy that the stages do not look like the ones you see in movies or the ones we form in our minds.
The stage was also old wood, but a lighter color than the bar. The stage also had the same kind of beveled edge as the bar, only wider. This serves to separate the customers from the stage a little. There is also room for drinks on this edge. Drinks are an integral part of the strip club. Behind the stage is all mirrors, and the pole comes up somewhere near the middle.
The pole was also old and worn. Its goldish bronze color was faded from years of use. And in the middle, there was always a little grime from years and years of dirty, sweaty hands spinning around it. It was not an extremely high pole, which did not allow for a lot of crazy tricks. But, except for Blue...most of The Shobar girls did not have a lot of fancy pole work.
One would enter the stage from the dressing room, through a deep burgundy velvet curtain. I used to sometimes wear these really cool black fairy wings that someone had left at the club. I loved those things. They looked so cool on stage, when I would make them flap like real butterfly wings. One year during Mardi Gras, those wings were my money makers! I had to be careful going on stage with them because it was easy to get them caught on the curtain rod as I emerged onto stage.
There was a jukebox in the dressing room for all of our music. I liked this about The Shobar. So many other clubs I had worked in had DJs to handle all the music. You could pick some of it, but you could not always pick what you wanted to dance to. With a DJ, you never know when a song could be abruptly cut short and then you are left still dancing on stage...looking like a fool. I liked picking my two songs just before I went on stage. I liked my music to reflect my moods, and reflect what I may have been feeling just seconds before I emerged into the stage lights.
"Happiness is a Warm Gun" was what I always played when I was waiting for the dope man to call. If my body had any lack of dope in it, I played this Beatles tune. "I need a fix 'cause I'm going down..." Another of my favorites was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A set of "Road Trippin'" and "Could Have Lied" was my mellow, sexy Peppers set. While a set of "Scar Tissue" and "Sir Psycho Sexy" revealed a playful mood.
I always think of Barbie when I heard "Baby Bitch" by Ween. I often borrowed this song, and played it for myself. I also think of Barbie when I hear "Pussycat", which is not a song I ever borrowed from her. It fit her perfectly, but was not my style. When I heard AC/DC "Big Balls", I always knew Sophia was on stage. And many of us passed around Evanescence's "My Immortal", Blue, and Suzi to name a few. I know that there are certain songs that no matter where I hear them, I will always be taken back to those days at The Shobar.
The dressing room was probably my favorite place (besides the bathroom, of course!) The dressing room at a strip club is where the good stuff always happens. This is where the camaraderie begins. This is where it all begins, starting with make up and hair.
Just like the rest of the place, the dressing room at The Shobar was also old school. It had mirrors along the wall opposite the door. Just like one would expect, there was a shelf for make up against the mirrors and chairs pulled up. The lights above the mirrors were the big, naked, round bulbs that one would expect to find in any strip club. The lights were not bright like those in some of the dressing rooms of the newer clubs I have been to. The lights seemed to be yellowed with age, like so much of the place was. This is where all the girls would take their put on make up, to eat, or just to chill out.
The walls were the same yellowing color of age, scrawled with graffiti from decades of various dancers making their mark. The carpet was so old and worn that parts of it did not even resemble a carpet anymore, but looked more like a hardened splotch of gum that had been rubbed in. The carpet was grey with dirt and age, and I noticed the funky smell it carried when the dressing room was first opened in the early day. One door lead in and out of the dressing room, and another lead to the stage. Lockers lined the walls in random spots.
The dressing room was a gathering place for the women who worked there. There was often a blunt being passed around, and we all shared alike. Some of us may not have contributed weed, but we always chipped in a little money or offered up some of our other goodies. I often ran to the dressing room after my dope runs, handing out bags like it is a free lunch for the homeless. Hungry junkies grabbing at my tiny foils.
The bathrooms were such an infamous part of The Shobar. The Shobar was often the place that all those into heroin would work. I do not know if it was because it was too hard to follow the rules at other clubs, as it often was with me...or if we just tend to gravitate toward those we are alike. I bet those bathrooms had more drugs spilled on their floors than most users see in a lifetime. I spent many hours in there shooting up.
I hear that the bathroom are just the same today, even after the entire place has been remolded. I find that entertaining because the bathrooms were always one of the worst parts of The Shobar. The swinging door leading in creaked as it opened, alerting anyone inside to a new presence. Those of us who did a lot of drugs in there always announced ourselves as we came in. "Its Scarlet," let the person behind the white wooden stall door know that it was only me and they could continue with whatever illegal activity they were involved in.
The lights in the bathrooms were fluorescent, and were the only lights in the whole club that did not have a yellow glow. These lights were brighter, and slightly tinged with blue. Sometimes when a bulb was dying, one of the lights would gently strobe, making it nearly impossible to find a vein quickly. Granted a lot of needles were used in that bathroom, you still had to keep it somewhat on the down never knew when Mama or one of "her girls" might walk in.
Often we would get in the stalls in twos. Sophia and I spent a lot of time in there together. After getting my shot of dope (and also coke sometimes) cooked up, Sophia would join me in the stall as I took off my choker. I pushed my hair to one side, tilting my head to reveal the veins on my neck. Sophia was good; she was in and out of the jugular in seconds...and my head was instantly swimming. The two of us were thick as thieves, and we used to do a LOT of heroin and coke in those bathrooms. We would emerge back into the club, heads spinning with a big fat speedball, to sit on the burgundy vinyl banquettes sweating our asses off. Just thinking about it now, and my heart's pace has quickened slightly.
All night, in and out of the bathroom. Back and forth, pacing the floors of the place. I spent a lot of hours in that place, drinking, getting high, and making money. I made a lot of my lifelong friends at The Shobar, and I am happy to say I still keep in touch with quite a few of those people. I do not miss being strung out, but I do miss The Shobar. It is the only strip club I have ever worked at that was not overrun by catty women. It is the only strip club I have worked where most of the girls have tattoos and piercings. It is the only strip club I have worked at where you were encouraged to be yourself, and it felt like family. I miss it dearly, and I do wish that it was still standing in its same dilapidated, yet unique way. It really was a cool, cool place.


  1. i must have just been walking out as you walked into that place ;) do you remember eva? she was thin thin thin with a pulp fiction feel...i suck at names, but am better at faces. i feel the same about shobar. my deal was acid and booze. i still look for my partner in crime: rahna. my name was chase. i was there 1998-1999. mama has just come back from being gone for a while. i thought she hated me too, so i bounced when she started hanging around again and eventually socked away enough cash from some dive joint (i forget the name) and moved out of state. i knew staying in new orleans meant death. no one had ever let me take heroin. they said i was too pure. i has blonde hair and blue eyes and a baby face. they'd score me acid instead because it wasn't as dangerous. do you have any pics from back then? i used to dance to sex on wheels and cool world soundtrack.

  2. So much feeling...
    beautifully written.

  3. i spent 12 years at shobar
    and loved it
    all memory of LATANYA whom i loved dearly
    and the sexy greek owner
    hugs RIO

  4. I totally miss the Shobar. You, Harleigh, Mikey, and ever Gregory kept me sane for many years. I love you all!

  5. Hey Rio! This is Sabri. How ya been> I havent been back to sho bar in years. What ever happend to LaTonya? She was always so sweet to me/ I often wonder about all the girls from sho bar, like you adn tasha and karen and cat and rachel before she became china. not to mention all the others that i miss and cant name right off hand. Then there is always Leo and his wonderful greek cusines, how could one forget the flavor or the Apo Peso sign (probably misspelt that) that intrigued customers. The years of a reckless mirage of despair, but hauntingly lingers with any dancer that has been tainted by shadows of society.
    I trully hope that you are well and know that i have thought of you personally, often especially since we shared similar religous views and talked about them in the mist of the chaos . Im sure you would be interested to know that i have since remarried, and now I teach sunday school and am a pentecostal ministers wife. 12 years later the dom. is submissive. God is so good, and so forgiving of EVERYTHING! LOve you, and all my other sisters from the sho-bar 1996-1999,,2001 (on and off)

  6. Hi - I just happened upon this blog after getting a little nostalgic and doing a google search.

    I'm Clint - I worked at ShoBar as doorman/bartender from about Feb to Dec 1997. It's been 15 years, and not a day goes by where I don't think back on those times.

    I dated two girls from ShoBar: Mary, who was a former dancer turned cocktail waitress, and Kate, another dancer. I frequently wonder what happened to both of them. I also miss LaTonya - ironically, she was like a mother to me during that time. Go figure...

    I left NOLA to come back to CT in 1997 after coming to grips with the fact that my coke addiction had gotten really bad. I passed out from malnutrition in front of The Dungeon one morning.

    Despite the bad times, I look back fondly on the fun times and people; Darren the bartender at Monahan's (and his marriage, then happing ont he back of the garbage truck to ride off), Van the waiter at DeJa Vu, etc.

    Take care,

  7. You take care, too, Clint. They knew me as Scarlet back in the day. But I was not there in 1997. I moved to NOLA in 1999....Glad you stopped by!

  8. Clint, was your girlfriend "Angel" on stage? I think you helped me get a cab the first night i ever tripped acid :) it was....a bit...difficult to hail the cab with everything melting

  9. What happened to latonya I loved her I worked with her there for 6 years up until I had my daughter from 93- 98 with Leo then I went by the name of brown sugar I forgot the lady name who worked there who lived upstairs on top of the bar those where the days!

    1. That Leo had some magic power it seems,including inpregnate a woman whithout even touching her...

  10. I meant to say i worked with Leo until I had my baby in 98 not had a child with him sorry

  11. N to the replier every girl he dealt with knew he had bed in the room next to his office ijs and he would call certain Girls to come back there i was just young and naive back then